I come from a long line of avid readers and have always loved books. My love of books and my penchant for free stuff caused me to take notice of an article titled “Catching the ‘Third Wave’” by Dr. Joe Webb, published on WhatTheyThink.com last month. The italics in the second paragraph jumped off my screen: “But if you’re planning to attend Print 17, you may not want to buy the book, but get the special and exclusive version available free to attendees at HP booth 613.” I immediately forwarded the email to my colleague, Kurt Ruppel, and asked him to pick up a copy to share (or better yet, pick up two).
What the Third Wave Is and How It’s Changing Media Consumption
The “wave” referenced in the book’s title is a reference to a dramatic change in media and the ways we use it. The first wave came in 1998 with the internet and online migration of society. The second wave came 10 years later with the combination of social media and mobile devices, as smartphones and social networks became like another appendage for many. According to Webb and co-author Richard Romano, the third wave is coming right on schedule, 10 years later, with even smarter mobile phones and social media, combined with artificial intelligence and the “Internet of Things,” making us even more connected to our devices. As my colleague Ashley Leone once observed, millennials get more upset about losing their phones than about losing their wallets. Soon we may be asking, “remember wallets?”
Webb and Romano wrote the book for the printing industry, based on the disruption to the industry created by the first and second waves. But the book is about so much more than the how the printing industry should prepare for the third wave. As the authors state, “communication today is where connectivity and imaging are starting to come together in interesting ways.”
Print Survived the Second Wave—And the Third Can’t Stop It, Either
One of the “interesting ways” noted by The Third Wave is an example of how new technology allows a printed book to be connected to the internet. Essentially, it’s a paperback book, audio book, and e-book, all in one – assuming the reader downloads the LinkReader mobile app. This comes at a time when printed books are making a comeback. According to the Pew Research Center, more and more Americans are reading e-books on tablets and smartphones instead of dedicated e-readers like Nook and Kindle, but print books remain much more popular than books in digital formats.
I wasn’t surprised to read in the Pew report that 73% of Americans have read a book in the last 12 months, but I was a little surprised to learn that percentage has remained largely unchanged since 2012. What did surprise me was when people reach for a book, it’s much more likely to be a traditional print book than a digital product. According to the study, 65% of Americans have read a print book in the last year, more than double the share that has read an e-book (28%) and more than four times the share that has consumed book content via audio book (14%). Then I thought about how hard it is to find a parking place at Barnes & Noble on Saturday afternoon and suddenly the numbers made sense.
As parking spaces at Barnes & Noble may show, e-book sales in the U.S. declined 18.7% over the first nine months of 2016, according to the Association of American Publishers. Paperback sales were up 7.5% over the same period, and hardcover sales increased 4.1%. The third wave might bring us closer to technology, but most people still don’t want to let go of the intimacy of printed materials.
Digital Convenience Isn’t a Substitute for the Personality of Print
From my perspective, the internet-connected book doesn’t seem to have much application for the latest thriller. But I can imagine how the third wave will enhance what I see now in some of my cooking magazines when a paper-based pastry cookbook soon seamlessly connects text to videos that demonstrate how to successfully use frozen puff pastry or show what over-processed pie crust looks like. In other words, now the book can do the same thing as my iPad, but without getting flour all over the screen.
One of the most interesting chapters in the book is Chapter 9, “Ahoy There! The Communication Process Revisited.” I’ll cover that in depth in a future post while pondering how the third wave will impact direct marketing.
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